No one has to suffer to be of service in this world
With everything going on in the world, I find myself in an ongoing cycle of grief, anxiety, anger, cynicism, and exhaustion.
In the past, one of my coping strategies has been to overcommit myself.
Back in 2017 I was volunteering with Planned Parenthood (here I am telling my PP story) and I took on way too much. I managed to burn myself all the way out and had to stop.
Since then, I've been trying to figure out how I can contribute, but in a more sustainable way.
Right now, that looks like being a monthly donor to independent abortion clinics and volunteering for a local mutual aid organization once a month.
I keep telling myself I "should" volunteer more. That once a month isn't enough.
And then I remind myself that if I went weekly, I'd burnout and quit. I'm trying to get comfortable with doing less, so I can do more over the long run.
I own that activism is a matter of choice for me - because I have enormous privilege - so I'm also thinking about the ways in which I can step up to support people for whom activism is not a choice.
In other words, how do I support wellbeing and longevity in myself and others?
And that's where the inspiration for our next book highlight comes from...
This month we have an excerpt from See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur:
"I had been made to believe that overwork was the only way to make a difference. I had come to measure my sense of worth by how much I produced, how well I responded, and how quickly.
I had worked for so long, and so hard, and at such great speeds, that I had become accustomed to breathlessness. I could not remember the last time I had a long night of rest. Or gazed at the night sky. Or danced.
I told myself that it was for good reason, that the need was great, and our work too important. Perhaps you too have felt this way.
This is what I want to tell you: You don't have to make yourself suffer in order to serve.
You don't have to grind your bones into the ground. You don't have to cut your life up into pieces and give yourself away until there is nothing left. You belong to a community and a broader movement.
Your life has value. We need you alive. We need you to last. You will not last if you are not breathing.
...When asked why we should practice radical care for ourselves, Angela Davis responded: "Longevity."
...Melissa Harris-Perry is shifting the public discourse from self-care to collective-care.
The term "self-care" implies that caring for ourselves is a private, individual act, that we need only to detach ourselves from our web of relations and spend our resources on respite or pampering.
But Melissa reminds us that care is labor we all do for one another, in seen and unseen ways. It should not come with a price tag. It should be available to all of us.
Melissa calls for "squad care" - a way to be in relationship with people committed to caring for one another:
"Squad care reminds us there is no shame in reaching for each other and insists the imperative rests not with the individual, but with the community.
Our job is to have each other's back."
For me, this passage is helpful because it reminds me that:
(1) A lot of us tend to violently overwork ourselves and our culture/workplaces will give us positive reinforcement for it.
We are expected to and validated by others when we suffer for the cause.
If this mindset doesn't change, we'll keep losing staff and volunteers due to turnover, sick leave, and worse.
Can you imagine how much we could accomplish - long term - if we retained healthy, knowledgeable, skilled staff?
(2) Our resilience is rooted in connection. Self-care is important (it's what you have the most control over, theoretically), but squad-care is critical.
Community building take time, so remember: it doesn't have to be a big squad.
We benefit from having even one person in our life who values our wellbeing, has our back, and is brave enough to resist the norms of productivity/suffering = worthiness.
We can validate each other's choices to engage with the work in a different way.
(3) We need to start asking ourselves hard questions:
What does approaching the work with wellbeing and sustainability as values look like?
What are our goals and how can we recalibrate the timeline, so that we can slow our pace while still moving in the right direction?
EVERYONE is TIRED, so how can you offer yourself and your squad more grace and flexibility?
And how will you tolerate the discomfort of doing less (and the potential short-term consequences of that on others), so that you and your staff don't burnout?
Want to read more from Valarie? You can find a copy of her wonderful book here.
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